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Israel targets Gaza tunnels, Palestinian rocket attacks persist

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(Last Updated On: May 14, 2021)

Israel fired artillery and mounted extensive air strikes on Friday against a network of Palestinian militant tunnels under Gaza, amid persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.

The largest Israeli operation against a specific target since the conflict began included 160 aircraft as well as tanks and artillery firing from outside the Gaza Strip, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Rocket barrages against southern Israel swiftly followed the 40-minute pre-dawn offensive on the fifth day of the most serious fighting between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014.

A woman and her three children were killed in Gaza, health officials in the north of the enclave said, and their bodies were recovered from the rubble of their home. An elderly woman in Israel died while on her way to a shelter to shield from the rocket attacks.

Gaza’s ruling Hamas group launched the rocket attacks at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

At least 119 people have been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 19 women, and 830 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.

The death toll in Israel stood at eight: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians – including two children – and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.

The head of the International Criminal Court warned that individuals involved in the bloodshed may be targeted by its investigation into alleged war crimes in earlier bouts of the conflict.

In northern and eastern parts of Gaza, the sound of artillery fire and explosions echoed early on Friday.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said there were reports of more than 200 housing units destroyed or severely damaged and hundreds of people seeking shelter in schools in northern Gaza.

Israel says it makes every effort to preserve civilian life, including warning in advance of attacks.

“What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover,” Conricus told foreign reporters.

“We refer to (it) as the Metro,” he said, adding that a final assessment on the outcome of the operation was pending.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday the campaign “will take more time”. Israeli officials said Hamas, Gaza’s most powerful Islamist militant group, must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any ceasefire.

U.S. President Joe Biden called on Thursday for a de-escalation of the violence, saying he wanted to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.

TENSIONS IN ISRAEL

The hostilities have fuelled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21% Arab minority. Violence continued in mixed communities overnight after street fighting and tit-for-tat attacks that prompted Israel’s president to warn of civil war.

“They say Gaza is spiraling out of control, but what is happening here scares me more,” said Majd Abado, an Arab resident of the mixed city of Acre, where people from both communities said they were afraid to leave their homes.

Israel’s military said a Palestinian tried to stab a soldier near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The soldier shot the attacker. Palestinian health officials said the man was killed.

The Israeli military’s build-up of forces on the Gaza border has raised speculation about a possible repeat of ground invasions during the Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2009. But an incursion looked unlikely, given Israel’s reluctance to risk a sharp increase in military casualties on Hamas turf.

The U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States had objected to a meeting on Friday.

Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations had yet to deliver a sign of progress.

The Israeli military has put the number of militants killed in Israeli attacks at between 80 and 90. It said that so far, some 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 430 fell short in Gaza or malfunctioned.

On the Israeli political front, Netanyahu’s chances to remain in power after an inconclusive March 23 election appeared to improve significantly after his main rival, centrist Yair Lapid, suffered a major setback in efforts to form a government.

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Abdullah quashes rumors of districts being abandoned intentionally

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

Following the collapse of a number of districts across Afghanistan in the past six weeks, Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation Abdullah Abdullah stated that “the abandonment of these districts (by security forces) was unplanned”.

So far, at least 33 districts have fallen to the Taliban since May 1.

In the most recent development, Anar Dara district in Farah province; Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province; and Gosfandi and Sayyad districts of Sar-e-Pul province were captured by the militants in the last 24 hours.

Sources told Ariana News that at least 40 members of the Afghan forces have been killed in Sar-e-Pul alone in the last week.

Abdullah, however, stated that there had been no plans ahead of time by security forces to abandon the districts. This comes after rumors started circulating a few days ago that security forces have intentionally planned to hand over districts to the Taliban.

Addressing a meeting with Friedrich Ebert Foundation members on Tuesday, Abdullah said: “The consecutive abandonment of the districts by the security forces is not part of an orderly plan.”

“It is not true that the districts are being handed over to the Taliban based on a plan,” Abdullah added.

Abdullah also called on people to support the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) amid a surge in clashes across the country.

“We know the situation is bad, but it is the responsibility of all of us to carry the burden and to come up with [support for] the current situation,” he stated.

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Taliban captures another 4 districts bringing total to 33

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

Taliban militants have captured another four districts in four provinces in the last 24 hours, sources confirmed.

According to the sources, Anar Dara district in Farah province; Khas Uruzgan district of Uruzgan province; and Gosfandi and Sayyad districts of Sar-e-Pul province were captured by the militants, bringing the number of fallen districts to 33 since May 1.

Afghan officials, however, stated that Security and Defense Forces (ANSDF) have “tactically retreated” from the districts.

In Farah, the Taliban blew up the government compound after capturing the center of Anar Dara district.

Police said the compound was completely destroyed in the explosion.

In Uruzgan, the insurgents captured the government compound, police headquarters, provincial NDS headquarters, and a number of public facilities on Tuesday morning.

This comes after First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday called the advancement of the Taliban a “narrow line” and warned that the paths into the districts will be turned into a mass graveyard for the militants.

In a statement issued on Monday, Saleh said: “Those who know how to fight with the Taliban, know that this narrow line will become the mass graveyard of this group of terror and ignorance.”

Saleh, meanwhile, stated that the Taliban militants have not changed the way they treat the people of Afghanistan.

“Do not be deceived by [Taliban’s] propaganda. Resisting the Taliban is defending human values and dignity. Taliban has no message for the people of this country other than demanding obedience as a slave life,” Saleh said.

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U.N. readies for more displaced Afghans after troop withdrawal

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(Last Updated On: June 15, 2021)

The United Nations is preparing for a likely further displacement of civilians in Afghanistan after U.S. and international troops leave the country in September, U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi told Reuters on Monday.

Violence has been rising as foreign forces begin withdrawing and efforts to broker a peace settlement between the Afghan government and insurgent Taliban have slowed.

Grandi pointed to a deadly attack last week on an international demining organization in northern Afghanistan, which killed 10 people.

“This is a tragic indicator of the type of violence that may be resurfacing in Afghanistan and with the withdrawal of the international troops this is possibly or likely going to become worse,” Grandi said.

“Therefore we are doing contingency planning inside the country for further displacement, in the neighboring countries in case people might cross borders,” he said, without offering details of those plans.

There are currently some 2.5 million registered refugees from Afghanistan globally, while another 4.8 million have been displaced within the country, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, which Grandi heads.

After 20 years, the United States has started a withdrawal of its remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan and aims to be completely out of the country by Sept. 11. Around 7,000 non-U.S. forces from mainly NATO countries – along with Australia, New Zealand and Georgia – are also planning to leave by Sept. 11.

Grandi said strong international support was needed for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

“It’s political action that should substitute conflict but, of course, the risk (of further displacement) is there and we need to be prepared,” he added.

U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

“What’s needed is a high level of economic support for Afghanistan humanitarian assistance to maximize the chance the Afghan authorities have to stabilize the situation,” U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told Reuters on Monday.

“There’s been very good and constructive outreach from the Biden administration, from the White House down, and we have actually had very productive discussions with them on that,” added Lowcock, who steps down from his role this month.

Earlier this month, the United States announced more than $266 million in new humanitarian aid for Afghanistan, bringing to nearly $3.9 billion the total amount of such aid it has provided since 2002.

Some 18.4 million people, almost half the country’s population, need humanitarian help, according to the United, Nations, which has appealed for $1.3 billion in funding for 2021. So far it has only received about 23% of that.

Lowcock said that until a few years ago there had been a lot of international attention in Afghanistan. That has “dissipated and weakened and that is a sort of problem when it comes to drawing attention to the needs of Afghanistan and getting support for them.”

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